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Simon Doubleday

Brunetto Latini

In 1260, the Italian humanist and former Chancellor of Florence Brunetto Latini (circa 1220-1294) had arrived in Castile, with an urgent message for Alfonso the Wise. Brunetto’s mission in Castile was to persuade the king to campaign for the position of Holy Roman Emperor. His city, Florence, was generally ‘Guelph’ in its sympathies, favoring the interests of the papacy more than those of the emperor, but was also willing to cross partisan lines. In the immediate term, it was a fruitless mission, because of events unfolding in Italy. But it may well have accentuated Alfonso’s ambitions.

Brunetto arrived in Seville precisely the moment that a Castilian-language account of Mohammed’s nighttime journey to Jerusalem and his ascent to Paradise was being translated (and amplified) from Arabic. It is possible that through Brunetto’s influence, this text helped to shape Dante’s Divine Comedy. Certainly, the embassy disseminated Alfonso’s personal fame: there was no one under the moon, Brunetto proclaimed, who matched the nobility of the great king of Spain.

In Gustave Doré’s 1890 illustration of the Inferno,  urgently accosts Dante as the writer makes his spiritual journey through the underworld, imploring him to continue his journey towards Paradise.